Tag Archives: history

Downtown Permaculture

Downtown Permaculture

Whether in a natural setting or a community; permaculture is a symbiotic relationship between everything that exists as it is. Where changes, new ideas, or even the decision to leave some things the same are based on the beneficial attributes of each component as a part of the whole.  Permaculture is all about finding ways to maximize the health and well being of the entire ecosystem in a way that creates an environment for life to thrive for years to come. In nature this concept works within the natural functionality of your soil to increase both the health of the soil and the health of your garden, rather than altering your soil and the landscape in a way that depletes the health of the soil long term. permaculture drawing

Ever since I personally decided to adhere to the rules of permaculture in my own gardening adventures, I find this philosophical science in everything I see. As a part of the think-tank of the future our historic downtowns, the principles of permaculture have ignited a new perspective of thought for innovating thriving communities. In a traditional sense, permaculture gardens lead to a thriving backyard ecosystem. So exactly what would a “downtown ecosystem” look like?

Window Covered with Brick

I suddenly began to see beyond brick and mortar. Beyond simply recognizing an Italianate. Beyond only the story of the town’s history in 1890. Beyond even seeing a coffee shop as I sipped a very real cup of coffee within the very real 1890 brick walls. Instead, I saw a vibrant plant whose species has remained within our landscape for over a hundred years.

A historic downtown could be a single street, a square or several blocks- whatever it is, big or small, it is its own “microorganism” within the bigger economy and society. Making it a garden that thrives for as many more years as it has already existed is actually quite simple. The core of downtown should be filled with dining and retail that supports local residents’ businesses and locally made goods.  Second floors should be used as residential housing. Downtown residents feed the economy and create a sense of culture.  Just as the garden with its many annual vegetables relies upon perennial neighbors to provide stability and nutrients to the soil for next years plantings. While summer tourism or yearly festivals may bring an economic harvest to be realized in the fall, having that symbiotic relationship between all the components of a downtown will make it grow, well…organically. downtown permaculture

My strawberries are a perennial staple in the vegetable garden, the boxes along the sidesstrawberries of the house and the flower gardens alongside the goldfish pond. They provide nectar for the bees in early spring, food for me shortly after and as their leaves die off and fall they provide mulch for next years plants. Our downtown core when thoroughly thought out acts much the same, except instead of nectar, food and mulch, it creates a place people want to be, going from one business to the next pollinating the local economy. The fruit is shared in the form of taxes and reinvestment. When a few leaves fall off in slow times the roots are still there to be consistently enjoyed by permanent residents who live just above and work just around the corner or a few blocks down the street.

What is within the core of a healthy ecosystem will need the most attention, though being mindful of what will work best within the soil of your downtown will make it less so. Either way, this is the area that people will most likely notice something needs tended to. We have created a bad habit in the last 20 some-odd years of putting all our focus on easy access highways and byways, dreaming of big box stores and chain restaurants that as we fly by at 60 miles per hour, we notice they come and go the same way my creek’s deep pools do every time we get a heavy rain. Having my gardens close to the house where I see them everyday forces me to trim the roses and pinch the basil. It’s a bit further back that the staples of permaculture make their home, or in terms of downtown permaculture, your service based businesses.

Every resident and business has service needs such as insurance, tax preparation, lawyers, auto repair and so on. My own company, though I admit not nearly as necessary a service as previously mentioned, sits just south of our downtown square. I give directions by explaining what well known core business I am located behind of. I belong there. I don’t belong in the core, I exist to provide something to the core and my reach goes from there.

Service based businesses don’t attract tourist, downtown shopping events or even a destination with friends on a nothing planned weekend. They do however provide something needed twelve months a year, and the people who work for them eat lunch, buy birthday presents and meet up for a happy hour every so often.

The final region of downtown permaculture is the forest, or in this case the neighborhoods. The homes stand like deep rooted trees, their streets like paths, places of worship and schools like the rocks that keep everything in place. With a strong downtown core and a healthy service region the neighborhoods will thrive just like the forest denizens that stay for generations unknown.

Often beyond the neighborhood is the edge. The edge is a place that in permaculture is the where working with nature instead of against her becomes a Zen-like surrender to accepting what is. Edges are a disruption of nature, they leave us with a void in the soil. Nature as we all know is perfect, and quick to repair disruptions and fill voids. So we get what we refer to as… weeds.

“A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Canadian Thistle

This is one of my husband’s favorite quotes, although he jokingly refers to our Native Missouri pollinator garden as a bunch of really expensive weeds. Our property has Asian honeysuckle, Canadian thistles, Johnsongrass and a myriad of other weeds.  Some are referred to as noxious and many invasive. Invasive, as are we. 


Wildflower Pollinator Garden

I myself am no less invasive to North America let alone the State of Missouri as any single non-indigenous plant. So when we are honest about it, a weed is something that doesn’t fit in with own agenda of what should be. A weed is simply unwanted.

Out we go in a battle against nature with chemicals, poisons, shovels and yanks to remove the reality we don’t want to see. In true fashion of reality, it just keeps coming back. Too often the edges of our cities are filled with a reality of people we turn a blind eye to, they aren’t a part of our grand vision of community perfection. Instead of hating the edges, what if we learned to love them instead? What if we learned to realize the edges and voids of supposed perfection are actually potential to the whole of the ecosystem?

When we first purchased our property, we decided to let a few acres of pasture go back to its natural state. The first few years it quickly filled with brush and grasses. A large wild blackberry patch took hold and thickets popped up making homes for rabbits and turkey. Soon after small trees began rising up out the knee-high foliage. Today, almost eleven years later much of this little spot is indistinguishable from the woods it borders. A healthy community is also an ever-changing ecosystem that doesn’t thrive without acceptance and patience. There’s a story behind the edges, a reason the edges are there. Know that story, dig below the surface and find out what your soil is made of.

“Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos”   ~Bill Mollison

From the core of the garden to the depth of the forest, everything can work in tandem creating beautiful blooms for decades to come.

Audrey L Elder                                                                                                                                          Past to Present Research LLC




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A Short History: Kitchens, Part II

1909 Sears CatalogYou walk through your front door. Hang up your coat, throw the keys on the counter that serves as the “catch-all,” look through the pile of mail on the desk, then you instinctively look in the fridge. (It’s what we do when we walk into the kitchen, even if we’re not hungry, right?) Your son walks in and grabs a box of Easy Mac out of the pantry and zaps it in the microwave for a quick after-school snack, while your daughter has break-and-bake chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, emitting a heavenly aroma that fills the house. Ahhhhh…

Our experience now is such a staunch contrast to where we left off in last week’s post.

Up until the end of the 19th Century, the kitchen was about the last place in the house that you wanted to be. It was hot, it was smelly, and unless you were willing to pull up your sleeves and lend a hand doing house chores, you really had no business being in the kitchen. But things improved, thanks to some outside forces that allowed kitchens to advance.

Industrialization during the 19th century – especially the last quarter – was a huge instrument for change. Here’s a smattering of what advancements were brought about to better our lives:

  • Improvements in agricultural practices meant increased yield and lower food prices
  • Improvements in technology (such as coolers and canning goods) preserved food for longer and giving them more mobility
  • Improvements in transportation (roads, waterways, and especially railroads) meant more variety was able to be distributed across the continent

This was REVOLUTIONARY. Could you imagine being in the landlocked Midwest and finally having access to seafood?

As a result of all this, households of the Victorian era indulged in multiple course meals with foods and flavorings that they may have had limited access to previously. Of course, to prepare these grand meals on their fine dishes and utensils, many households employed servants to take care of preparation and clean-up. Running water inside the home would have made their jobs much easier, and so many homes arranged for water lines to be connected to their buildings – particularly at the rear, where the kitchen was typically located. Scullery maids were able to keep busy with their dishwashing with this convenience.  (Sometimes they were launderers as well; thus, the scullery kitchen is often considered the precursor to our laundry rooms, which are still usually located adjacent to the kitchen.)

While Victorian kitchen technology by no means brought waffle makers or smoothie-makers into our homes, there were some great advances to be noted: the ice box, the can opener (crude, but still technically a can opener), and a variety of more functional cooking ware. Gadgets and appliances weren’t the only parts of this kitchen revolution. Some Victorian homes were equipped with electricity that, in big ways as well as small, made the experience extraordinary.

One story from my experience comes to mind. I worked as a docent, giving tours of the Adams House in Deadwood, South Dakota, a charming Queen Anne with all the elegance and “modern conveniences” from its time still intact. One feature that I liked to point out to my guests was something unseen, but that made kitchen and dining service operations run seamlessly. As the kitchen staff prepared dishes back in the kitchen, the guests of the home sat eating and conversing in the dining room. It would be terribly rude to interrupt a course of the meal or cut conversation short with the arrival of the next round of dishes. To avert this problem, the homeowner had a button installed on the floor at the head of the table; one step on the buzzer alerted the kitchen staff that that was the appropriate time to enter the dining room with the next course.

Efficiency of the kitchen was first and foremost on the minds of the era’s homeowners. Kitchen operations were expected to operate like a well-oiled machine, and any kind of tool made available to make its operations run smoothly were welcomed and sought out in the home. Mail-order services such as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were especially adept at wooing consumers with time-saving products featured in their catalogs. Stoves, laundry sinks, and an endless list of gadgets were available to Americans in even the most remote locations. The inclusion of many of these items, too, made us realize that we needed to rethink how we design our kitchens to maximize their potential.

Next week we’ll continue with Part III of this series. Spoiler alert: TV Dinners are in our future!

In case you missed it, be sure to read Part I as well!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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The New Nostalgic


For history-loving homebuyers, old is good.  Dreams of buying a Queen Anne Victorian — even the DIY type — can bring flutters to the soul of an adventurous shopper.  They slow down at the sight of stone-clad porch posts, inviting visions of living today in the past through a wooden beamed and trimmed Arts and Crafts.  So excited about planning where exactly the lilac trees will go in front of the turn-of-the-century farm home they just put an offer on, they can’t sleep.

As a Realtor that specializes in historic aged properties, I love this fantastic group of buyers.  I know what they want and what they don’t want.  And usually, outside of the kitchen and bath(s), they don’t want updates.  These are the people that aren’t impressed with vinyl siding and windows, non-conforming additions, and really any “remodels” that take away from the original home.

Here’s the new oddity.  Homes that are in that 30-65 year old range have been typically beaten up if they still show any sign of their originality.  However the eldest of the group has just graduated to nostalgic.  It just might be time to put the brakes on updating those beautiful 1940’s through ‘60s homes.

To be fair to everyone, I really do get it.  There is something about our childhoods that we love to recollect but would never want to recreate.  I will never have a home with shag carpet.  I will never have a raining oil lamp or wooden ducks with thin metal wings on my wall.  They will live happily forever in my memory of the 1970s and honestly I’m fairly adamant about leaving them there.

The age of the home has everything to do with the age of the buyer.  Everything to do with a time that home represents.  We’re human, and we are constantly connecting to something even if we aren’t aware why.  Beyond the fact that many of these homes are now eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, they also represent a time that I think we are finding a connection to.

So leave the dark wood paneling up, leave the brick in the kitchen, don’t cover up the built in bookshelves.  Embrace the light of those amazing Mid-Century Modern windows! The next new wave in historic home buying has begun.

Audrey L Elder

Past to Present Research, LLC  &

Keller Williams Platinum Partners

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Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Five Minute Memoirs

SURFACE20 - WIN_20131104_131924Each year around the month of November we see a lot of buzz around the internet about NaNoWriMo – or, as we speak it in plain English, National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge that has rapidly grown with followers since its inception in 1998, encouraging amateur writers to put pens to paper or click away on their keyboard or typewriters and create a novel during the month of November. The goal, ultimately, is to write 50,000 words and tap into your creativity. At the time that I’m writing this, the number of writers registered through NaNoWriMO’s website was just shy of 250,000, and it will continue to climb. It’s kind of a big deal.

Since I heard about this a few years ago I have told myself I would participate in it…one of these days. And why not? There’s a multitude of writing groups at independent book stores, libraries, and schools in almost every community that are holding workshops and acting as support groups for each other as they press on through the month to hit that grueling word count goal at the end of the month. Bloggers go crazy this time of year sharing their enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo, and it’s nearly impossible to walk into a coffee shop without finding an aspiring novelist furiously pounding away at their laptop to write just one more chapter in their science-fiction thriller or . Still, I have put it off, thinking maybe next year…

I’m really no novelist, but what I do have a passion for is history. Particularly, people’s stories. I have the time to commit to this kind of pursuit, so I really have no reason not to give it a go…maybe with a different twist…

I’ve heard my colleague David Jackson say time and time again that there are very few written accounts of daily life and experiences from the twentieth century currently held in the archives of the Jackson County Historical Society. He would know, he’s the Director of Archives and Education with JCHS. Want to take a guess at how many personal recollections about life during the Great Depression they have? The answer: ONE. And this is from a major event in our nation’s history, from a generation that is quickly dwindling. I, personally, would hate to see our history, through our collective memory, slip away undocumented.

The thing is, we each have this notion that our experiences are non-historical, that we haven’t made an impact on history ourselves. Perhaps, but I can think of a multitude of ways in which – just in the last 10-15 years – we have each experienced how our way of life has changed and shaped our experiences. For example, communication. When I was in middle school, my family had dial-up internet (those tones echo in my mind), and each of us were allotted a certain amount of time to spend online each day. At the same time, long before I got my first cell phone, all of my phone calls were made from our landline, and those calls also had a time limit so that others could use the internet or keep our one phone line open. Just take a moment and think about how much has changed since this scenario. I’m sure you have a similar story to tell.

Which brings me to my point.

This November, I propose a different kind of challenge. I’m calling it Five Minute Memoirs.

What if we were to each take five minutes every day for the remainder of the month, and write about your memories? They could be from your childhood, from yesterday, from any stage in your life. Tell about your daily life. Reveal a long-kept secret or pent-up memory. Where you were when a major event happened. Talk about the economy, in good times and bad. Something strange. Something mundane. Products you’ve used. Family traditions. Company parties. The sky is the limit.

At the end of the month, bundle them all together like essays, and consider sharing them with your friends and family. If you feel generous, share them with us and we would like to share them with our readers (with your permission, of course). You can send us a message through our Facebook page or email us.

Most of all, please consider donating your Five Minute Memoirs to your local historical society. If you’re not sure who to contact, we will help you get in touch with the right people.

So what do you say? Are you up for the challenge?

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Documenting History


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Preserving History: Farmsteads

FarmsteadHaving grown up on a farm east of Kansas City, Missouri, in Lafayette County, I can attest to a having a personal passion and appreciation for the preservation of farmsteads. I grew up watching my own father tend to the cattle and corn just as he had done since childhood. His parents passed the reigns onto him as it had been passed on to them. Our farm was established by my great-great-grandmother and her three boys in 1908, and has stayed with the family for four generations. Through personal tragedies and triumphs, feast and famine, this old farm has seen its fair share of history. For example, in 1928 it became the first farm home outside of town to be wired for electricity – mainly because the town electrician just happened to call that particular farmhouse home. Shortly after, miraculously, my family maintained ownership throughout the Great Depression, while others were not so fortunate.

To this day I consider myself lucky to have been raised in America’s Heartland. In a family of storytellers, we’ve been passing along tales of family members who were here before us, who shaped the land and put dinner on the tables of many. You see, our little farm has had over 100 years of stories to tell.

Over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized in the State of Missouri, many of them bearing with plaques or signs such as this to signify their achievements.

Over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized in the State of Missouri, many of them bearing with plaques or signs such as this to signify their achievements.

Many farmsteads throughout the state – and across the nation – have similar stories to tell, and some have begun to speak up. In 2008 our farm was recognized as a Missouri Century Farm, a program offered by the University of Missouri Extension and the College of Agriculture to recognize and celebrate farms across the state held by the same family for a century or more. To date, over 8000 Century Farms have been recognized, each bearing a plaque that acknowledges their place in Missouri history. If you think that your family farm may be eligible for this acclaim, you can get more information here. A book published in 2012, titled Missouri’s Century Farms: Preserving Our Agricultural Heritage, highlights many of these farms and tells their stories. Find it at your local library, or contact the University of Missouri Extension for more information.

Believe it or not, there are several other ways to preserve the history of your farmstead, and in fact there’s been a big push to get the word out. Missouri ranks number two in the nation for number of barns – second only to Texas – and Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office has been conducting architectural surveys of farmsteads and barns in order to document and preserve their history for years to come. The survey mainly asks about what the farm produced historically and currently (crops, livestock, etc.), details about buildings on the property (farm house, barns, silos, brooding houses, etc.), and the layout of the farm itself. Of course, providing photographic documentation of the property is also a great supplement to your survey submission.

So what happens once this survey is completed? How is this information used?

Once the survey has been received by the State Historic Preservation Office, they are included in an inventory of architectural surveys that will serve as a database for the state’s historic resources. There’s much to be learned from our rural communities and family farms, and participating in the process is a huge contribution to our understanding of our history. You may also find that your farm is eligible to be recognized on the National Register of Historic Places! (It’s also worth mentioning that once your property is designated it could also be eligible for federal and state tax deductions to use toward restoration of your income-producing structures.)

To learn more about this survey project and get your own survey forms to contribute to this project, visit this site through the Department of Natural Resources.

Also, check out Missouri Barn Alliance and Rural Network (Missouri BARN), a non-profit organization dedicated to farmstead preservation and instrumental in getting the Barn and Farmstead Survey started. They are also advocates for adaptive reuse of old farm structures so that even those that are out of commission can be of a benefit to their owner or community once again.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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